Summary: Malachi condemns clergy abuse, then offers a positive role model. We see in Levi 4 marks of a godly minister: Reverence, Instruction, Conduct and Protection.
“Cursing the Clergy” Malachi 2:1-9.
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts www.cliftondalecc.org
Have you ever gone to church and heard a sermon, and you thought the preacher was preaching at you? Maybe you felt under attack! Well, this morning you can relax a bit, you’re off the hook, because the focus of the first half of Malachi 2 is a critique against ministers! In a troubling time of clergy scandals, this is a message worth considering. The clergy Malachi writes of had strayed from their calling and corrupted their covenant.
While ministers aren’t perfect, we nonetheless have to walk before the face of God and the eyes of the world. Our goal is to live above reproach. At the same time, we’re not sinless; we model pilgrimage, not perfection. Nonetheless, pastors have a high calling and we answer to God for our actions in and out of the pulpit. There are times when the pressures and discouragements are hard to handle. Every year many pastors leave or are forced to leave the ministry. Some are defrocked due to moral failure. Others leave on their own; they quit their calling. I think a lot depart due to poor people skills. Pastors are expected to be “passionate for God and compassionate with people” (Peterson). Malachi writes a searing rebuke to priests who weren’t taking God seriously. They viewed their role in the Temple as a job, as if they were shopkeepers or CEOs, running a business. They’d lost any sense of mystery, reverence, and wonder. And they’d lost the joy of ministry. Ministry performed without joy helps neither the minister nor those he’s serving.
God graphically warns in verse 3 that He will make visible the priests’ shame; there will be no cover-up. Their inner defilement will result in outer tarnishing. This will cause them to become ceremonially unclean, and incapable of being able to carry out their official duties. They’d been set apart for sacred service but they’d dishonored their calling and their Lord. Their blessings will become a curse upon them. They will be “carried off” like refuse, removed from office and not allowed back, a radical reversal: from the sanctuary to the garbage dump!
In studying the matter of “pastoral authority”, I’ve found that respect for clergy has declined in America. This is partially due to the fact that clergy are no longer the most highly educated people, but mostly because of their behavior. Many people have lost respect for ministers. It’s even worse overseas. In England, a poll indicated that people had more respect for taxi drivers than for clergy! When I served in the military, I knew officers who dishonored the uniform. We had to respect their rank, but inwardly we had little respect for the person.
Shortly after leaving Fort Bliss, Texas, I learned that the Post Chaplain was Court Marshaled and sent to Fort Leavenworth for embezzling $75,000.00 of non-appropriated funds (offering money). This makes us all look bad, as clergy misconduct destroys confidence in the church. Some people have given up on church altogether due to clergy scandals.
Malachi doesn’t just criticize; he offers a positive example, a role model of proper ministry, that of Levi. In the days of Moses, God made a covenant with Levi and his tribe, to serve in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). Levi demonstrated what godly service is all about; he set the standard. We see in him four marks of a godly minister: Reverence, instruction, conduct and protection, in verses 5-7…
Reverence. The Lord states in verse 5 that Levi “revered Me and stood in awe of My Name.” We stand on holy ground when we come to worship. In this age of contemporary worship we’ve lost to some degree of our sense of the sacred. When we enter the sanctuary I hope we have a profound sense of the Holy. As a pastor I take considerable time planning and structuring the service, to ensure that the time we spend here on the Lord’s Day is a time of wonder, sacrament, and celebration. I want the worship to be accessible and relevant, but most of all I want it to be God-directed, with an upward focus…for He is holy, and deserving of our praise.
Instruction. Levi was committed to point people to the truth of God’s word, verse 6: “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips.” This involves study. A battalion commander once told me, “Leaders are readers.” I have to say I get suspicious when I enter a minister’s office and don’t see a lot of books! Long after seminary days are over, the effective minister is still learning, still growing, still studying. I only discovered the tools of study in school; since then I’ve used these tools to learn more and grow in my understanding and application of Scripture. Formal training is important for a minister to be able to thoroughly teach God’s word. Seminary offers instruction in the Bible, theology (doctrine), principles of interpretation, Biblical languages, pastoral counseling, church history, archeology, religious education, preaching, and ethics. The preparedness of prospective pastors is appraised in Vicinage councils, which examine and verify the calling to religious vocation. Eugene Peterson writes that, “People have a need to be reassured that someone is in touch with the ultimate things.” Ministers like Levi point people to the divine and keep people attentive to God. Someone prayed, “Use me, O God, not because it’s the hour for the message, but because You’ve given me a message for the hour.” Pastors who continue to study want their congregations to drink from a running stream, not a stagnant pool.